I find like many individuals that as I get older, I enjoy staying within my comfort zone and rarely experience situations that give me a huge buzz or a massive adrenaline rush. On this holiday that was about to change!
Prior to our afternoon, two-hour snowmobile safari, I must admit that I had some serious personal reservations. My fear of sledges rather kicked in and before the outing I had already agreed with another party member to be the back seat passenger throughout.
We were warned to dress as warmly as possible and taken by minibus to a local hotel to find our snowmobiles. The safety briefing was excellent and the video gave very clear instructions not only on how to drive, but the hand signals and key safety required. Fitted with a “Stig” helmet we went outside to brave the cold and breezy afternoon adventure.
Tummy fluttering, we set out across the frozen lake with the wind in our faces, my hands gripping the safety handles like a vice and my teeth clenched. Once I began to relax, I realised that the ride was actually very comfortable and because of the visor, the wind and spindrift just blew around my face and my body was so insulated that it was a little like travelling in a personal bubble!
The lake is not flat. I soon realised that there were bumps and troughs on the ice and by taking my weight a little on my feet, it prevented my bum bouncing up and down. Looking ahead enabled me to anticipate the bumps and I relaxed more, I began to look at the amazing wilderness around me and felt myself smiling; this was brilliant!
At the end of the lake we went cross country on forest trails to the next lake. This was very exciting as the tracks were rougher and less predictable and the adrenaline started kicking in. At the halfway point many couples swapped over, enabling the other to drive the snowmobile. I declined as planned, but I have to admit regretting that decision and certainly would have a go next time.
On the return trip I felt the pace was a little faster – we did have the wind behind us. It was with disappointment that I spotted the end of the first lake, by then I was really having a wonderful time, was still snug and warm thanks to my superb clothing provided and the hand and foot warmers in my gloves and boots and was filled with adrenaline and beginning to wonder if Santa would be able to fit one of these remarkable vehicles in my stocking next year? A wonderful experience!
As Jorie said, the overall emotion of the trip was elation at travelling at high speed over the frozen terrain. Once my initial caution of matching throttle and steering to the trail had subsided, I felt it was closer to driving a motorboat on the sea. Trying to read the folds and hollows of the snowscape we were crossing like waves and adjusting the speed to ride over or cruise through each “wave” made the journey smoother, with fewer bumps and jumps for me and my passenger. All too soon we were on the home run across the lake and back to the hotel. Inside a little voice called out Again! Again!
After another wonderful sunrise in the morning, we went across to the lodge to meet our guide to go ice fishing. Now I really enjoy fishing at home and I find that the total concentration of focussing on the rod tip on a river bank or lakeside mesmerising. Bundled up in over suits and our big boots it seemed very strange when we reached the lakeshore to be given a tiny fishing rod before the guide carried out a giant corkscrew.
Out on the lake he explained the best ice fishing techniques and the group spread out over a wide area. Each of us began drilling our hole through half a metre of ice, before carefully finding the depth to set our lines. At first, it seemed a bit ludicrous sitting on a reindeer skin in the middle of a frozen lake with a line going down through a 15 cm hole but it was great and the scenery and stillness were just jaw-dropping. Mindful of his group the guide moved around each cluster of folk chatting with us about Finland, his pleasure of fishing in the winter and summer and keeping us warm with hot berry juice.
After a warming lunch of soup, and a little instruction, we were able to borrow snowshoes from the resort.
This activity was in stark contrast to others during the week. It enabled Ray and me to wander alone among the many local trails, through the woods and along the lakeshore. I think it helped that we had both skied before and were quite used to having “equipment” fastened to our feet. I soon learned that walking in the footsteps of the person in front in deep powder in the forests was to be recommended. The pioneer really does all the hard work and made my progress much easier – a good tip!
What is wonderful about this activity is that it enables you to really look at the amazing scenery and take your time to soak up the atmosphere. You very quickly feel completely alone and isolated in the forest, although the road and buildings of the resort may be in view. The silence here is complete and tangible and to be appreciated as it is such a rare thing back home. We loved it!
We had chosen to have a quieter day and took an amazing scenic drive for an hour or so, to one of the most spectacular Ice Villages at Lainio, near Kittilä. Magnificent carvings had been created along a series of tunnels and chambers. Magically lit up with coloured lights, they were all based on the TV series 'Game of Thrones'.
Central halls had a central carving, some three metres high and each had a series of bedrooms or suites, with an individual relief carved wall. These halls were joined by corridors to the other hotel facilities, a coffee shop, a restaurant, ice bar and even a wedding chapel. Inside the Ice hotel, the temperature remained a balmy -5°C whilst outside it had dropped to -27°C! Before we braved that, we enjoyed lunch in the alternative log cabin restaurant complete with huge log fires.
The afternoon entertainment for us was to visit the neighbouring hotel with a swimming pool, hot tub and a smoke sauna. While revelling in the warmth of the pool area and the tang of wood smoke; we drew the line firmly at rushing outside and jumping into the hole cut in the ice of the adjoining lake! Some of the other guests did brave the experience, though not for long, we were happy to wimp out on that one!
Just beginning to write these words brings back fantastic memories of one of the best days of my life!
The afternoon began full of trepidation for me and throughout the excellent safety briefing and initial training given by our guide, I could so easily have backed out. These reservations increased as we approached the harnessed teams of six dogs who were at full bark and were obviously bursting out of their skins to be off.
Once properly settled aboard, one by one the sledges were physically released and the dog teams set off at speed down a twisting narrow track through the forest and onto the frozen lake. I can honestly say that I clung on for dear life and felt like we had just been down an Olympic Bobsleigh Run – the experience was fantastic!
Once on the lake, the dogs steadied their pace and took on a steady rhythm and we were able to breathe and take stock of what was going on. I soon realised that all the dogs not only looked different but also had different jobs and personalities. Their idiosyncrasies were extremely amusing and caused us to laugh out loud at their various antics. For example, whenever the break was applied, the lead dog kept looking around at us and the other dogs with an expression which obviously said, “What’s going on? Why are we stopping? What the hell are you all doing?” Every time we needed to stop, another dog leapt sideways onto his partner and started chewing his ear.
The journey continued happily on as the tableau of wilderness nature passed by and the dogs all became more and more familiar to us. At the halfway point we were able to stop for a short while to chat, gather ourselves take photos and change drivers. ALWAYS aware that someone always needed to be stood on the sledge and the brake – it was a long way to run home after a dog sled! The guide also warned us that the dog teams may slow down a little on the return journey as they tired, but that when they smelt home not to underestimate their enthusiasm. She was NOT wrong.
As we journeyed back with a little sadness, the sky above us put on an amazing show. The afternoon brightness faded into a grey light and small clouds appeared, turned red underneath by the early setting sun. We had all enjoyed an amazing adventure.
In the fading light, I made a decision that when I grow up I’m going to be a Musher on the best dog sled in the world!
Overall, we had the most amazing adventure ever in Finland and a huge thanks must go to Artisan Travel, our wonderful guides and the fabulous hospitality of the team at Torassieppi for giving us such a special holiday that we will never forget! When can we come back?